An excerpt from the booklet essay by Carmen Gray

Ask anyone familiar with the cinema of Hungary who the greatest filmmakers it’s ever produced are, and the name of Márta Mészáros will tend to come up, along with those of men like Miklós Jancsó, István Szabó, and Béla Tarr. Though it’s more accurate to say that rather than Hungary having made Mészáros, she forged her own unorthodox route, in so doing transforming the nation’s industry by setting a precedent for women directors to take command of space to excel that simply hadn’t existed there before.

Female innovators like Ildikó Enyedi today help keep Hungary on the arthouse map, but in the 1950s its film industry was hostile to the idea of women at the helm of projects, if not completely closed to it. It’s a story Mészáros now tells with wry amusement. When she turned up at a film studio as a naïve teen and announced her desire to become a director, she was instructed by one of its employees: “Girly, go home, because it’s not good to say stupid things like that.” Any woman who said such a thing was assumed to be in the grip of hysteria. Needless to say, he didn’t have the last word. Seeing little opportunity in Hungary to realise her ambition, she went instead to study in Moscow (a possibility under communism) at its State Cinema Institute, VGIK. On seeing her country had sent a woman, the professor shrugged: “the Hungarian comrades are quite strange, but let’s try.” It worked out. On her return to Budapest, the film labs were intimidated by Moscow’s seal of approval, and allowed her to work.

After some years making documentary shorts, she became, with 1968’s The Girl (Eltávozott nap), the first woman in Hungary to direct a feature. In 1975 Adoption (Örökbefogadás) made her the only woman, at that point, to have won the Berlinale’s Golden Bear. Her name belongs with figures such as Agnès Varda, among European cinema’s important female pioneers.


Adoption is a bold work, that — psychologically complex, politically trenchant, and attuned to rebellion — still holds up today. It explores what is a constant theme in the films of Mészáros: fragmented family roots, and the need to forge one’s own way in less-than-ideal conditions (her first feature, The Girl, was about young girls seeking their missing parents). This preoccupation is not surprising, given her traumatic start in life. Her parents took her with them as an infant to Soviet Kyrgyzstan. She was orphaned after her father, a sculptor, was arrested and executed by the Stalinist regime, and her mother died in childbirth. Diary for My Children drew heavily on her experience being raised by a foster parent. In the film wilful teen Juli (Zsuzsa Czinkóczi) arrives back in Hungary into the care of her aunt Magda, a committed Communist struggling to reconcile rigid adherence to ideology with inner values. In that coming-of-age story, maturity means finding one’s own ethical compass amid an uncompromising reality. Its vision is a tough one, familiar with loss, that understands that proffered guidance must be evaluated with clear eyes and independent thinking, its integrity not a given. It’s a world without parents — or at least, one in which one’s security cannot be unconditionally entrusted to others.


Carmen Gray's complete essay, from which this excerpt is taken, appears in the booklet which accompanies the release.

Disc Info

Hungary, 1975
88 minutes
Special features: 26 mins
Sound: 2.0 Dual Mono LPCM (48k/16-bit)
Black and white
Original aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Language: Hungarian
Subtitles: English

Blu-ray: BD25 / 1080 / 24fps Region ABC (Region Free)

Blu-Ray: £19.99
Release Date: 12 July 2021


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